|Medicinal Plants: An Expanding Role in Development (World Bank, 1996, 32 pages)|
|2. The resource base|
Despite all their importance, medicinal plants are, for the moment at least, seldom handled within an organized, regulated sector; most are still exploited with little or no regard to the future. As noted, escalating consumer demand is already resulting in the indiscriminate harvest of wild plants. This is damaging both ecosystems and their precious biodiversity. The damage is especially serious when bark roots, seeds and flowers all essential for the species, survivalare removed.
Concern is growing that many medicinal plants (not to mention the knowledge about their use) are on the verge of extinction. The need to protect rare medicinal plants seems to be urgent. Samples collected today may in the future be found to combat dreaded diseases, but there is no guarantee that the plant will then still exist. This could be unfortunate not only for the patients but for the countries that could develop lucrative industries out of the budding resource.
China's situation gives some sense of the scope of this problem. There, more than 80% of the 700,000 tons of plant material harvested each year comes from wild sources. The destruction of forests, overgrazing of meadows, expansion of industry, and increasing urbanization, as well as the excessive collection of wild plants all mean that the natural sources of medicines for a billion people are being rapidly reduced.
In country after country, reducing exploitation rates is clearly necessary if vulnerable wild populations are to survive, let alone to recover. A look at the legislation regarding harvesting and trading indicates that it is ineffective as it now stands. New policies and rigid enforcement are needed.
Although it is obvious that the economic value of medicinal plants is enormous, the true size of the sector is undetermined. Data are scarce or non-existent; detailed information on medicinal plants is seldom collected (and in some cases deliberately so). As a result of the uncertainty, no conservation action has been taken for most of the threatened species.